Biden’s half measures won’t do for U.S to compete with China

China and the United States are engaged in a great struggle — economic, diplomatic and ultimately military — that will determine the survival of democracy. Sadly, President Biden embraces half measures that play into Beijing’s hand.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made clear we object to: China’s mercantilist policies that weaken our economy and our allies; the gross human rights violations it commits by throwing Muslims into concentration camps and smothering democracy and jailing dissidents in Hong Kong; and its violations of international law by militarizing large swaths of the South China Sea and threatening Taiwan with invasion.

Mr. Biden seeks to gird the U.S. economy with his infrastructure proposals, but the monies allocated to the semi-conductor industry and manufacturing generally ride second car to social programs. His industrial policies pale by comparison to advantages Beijing offers national champions with subsidies and by throwing up barriers to foreign competition in its domestic market.

Mr. Biden’s limp approach appeases the Democratic Party’s hard left — it believes America can spend as it pleases domestically, cut back on defense and rely on diplomacy to somehow stifle an international bully. Instead, Mr. Biden should be telling Americans there can be no social justice if China destroys our industrial base, or if he fails to modernize our Pacific military resources by cultivating moderate Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get the job done.

Mr. Biden seeks a coalition of democracies. However, for the U.K., Germany, France, Japan and other Trans-Pacific Partnership nations, disengaging and confronting China entails lost exports and jobs and military vs. domestic spending tradeoffs too. Our most potent tool would be to offer our allies a Western free trade alliance by rejoining the TPP and quickly concluding agreements with the U.K. and EU.

Instead, Mr. Biden again bows to hard-left Democrats, who oppose free trade as an ideological imperative, and embraces their nostalgic fantasy that somehow America can recreate the unionized manufacturing prosperity of the 1950s. U.S. manufacturing, no matter how strongly rebuilt, will use fewer and more technically sophisticated workers that are less amenable to collective bargaining and political herding.

America can’t expect Japan, Germany and others to forgo market opportunities in China, while Mr. Biden acts so protectionist toward friend and foe alike.

Mr. Biden appeases Black Lives Matters, AOC and other radical progressives by not explicitly rejecting the 1619 narrative and critical race theory. He stocks his administration only with appointees who meet the hard-left’s ideological screening. That’s why we don’t have as Defense Secretary Michel Flournoy, who has the clearest vision of the military challenges posed by China, but instead have Lloyd Austin who has not demonstrated by his record or words such understanding.

All this opens the field for Beijing’s aggressive foreign policy narrative that tells the world America poses a false choice — Beijing offers a better system and a unifying path while the Americans seed divisions and suspicions. What Beijing does internally to Muslims and other minorities is its own business, and its treatment of Hong Kong and Taiwan are within its sovereign discretion.

Beijing repeatedly calls out the United States for our treatment of Blacks. BLM, OAC and the rest of the ever-patriotic hard left must be happy for the help.

The good news is that Mr. Blinken is a skilled diplomat well capable of cultivating allies and privately focusing them on the hypocrisy of Beijing’s narrative. The bad news is like most who rise from the ranks at Foggy Bottom he is adverse to stating publicly compelling, discomforting truths.

If this were the 1920s, how Beijing treats Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan would be internal matters, but since World War II and the U.N. Charter — which China has signed and should abide — respect for human rights and self-determination are international obligations not matters for domestic sovereign discretion. For its actions, Messrs. Biden and Blinken should label China a terrorist state — that would better frame the issue for our allies and compel sanctions with teeth.

Since Presidents Truman and Johnson, our national policy has been to correct injustices toward Blacks and dismantle systemic racism whereas as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo correctly stated, China’s national policy amounts to genocide. Now it’s up to Mr. Blinken to state that Beijing’s deeds make President Xi guilty of crimes against humanity and world leaders who would enable him become accomplices.

It’s time to stop pretending we can engage China or do business with a maniacal fascist on much of anything. Sometime in this decade Beijing’s military will likely cross the straights of Taiwan, and America should be preparing for war.

• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. 

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